Be Polite With Your Web Site

You’ve done all of your marketing research, and have a solid product or service to sell online. However, unless you remember basic rules of “netiquette”, the only results will be annoying your web site visitors into never returning to your site again.

It is important when designing a web site to remember why people surf the internet – to get information. The average web surfer is looking for information, or for a particular product or service to buy, and does not care about flashy web site elements at all. The following are ten points to keep in mind when designing your web site. They are sure-fire ways to annoy anyone who visits your web site and prevent them from returning.

1) Background Music

Many web site owners think that adding background music to their web site will enhance the experience of visiting their pages. While “brick and mortar” stores are known to use music as a means of setting a mood in consumers while they shop in their stores, the same is not true for internet shoppers.

Since the advent of Windows 2000 (XP, etc.), drivers for sound cards are now what is known as “full duplex”. This means that multiple programs can access the sound card simultaneously. Many web surfers will listen to music while they surf, either by playing MP3 files, or by listening to a CD. The programs which play MP3 files and CDs allow different volume settings from other programs. This means that it is possible that the user will have the volume for the program much lower than the “master volume” setting, and when your background music kicks in, it will blare out of the speakers, or directly into the visitor’s head through their headphones. I don’t need to explain how annoying this would be to the visitor, you can imagine for yourself.

If the business of your web site is music, it is expected that you will have some sort of background music, either on your pages or in a site intro. If you must include background music on your site, be sure to provide a visibile means of turning the music OFF, ‘above the fold’ of your website. (meaning that the surfer does not have to scroll down on your page to find the music controls)

2) Automatic Program or Plugin Downloads

One very annoying aspect of a site is for the browser to suggest that you need a certain plugin or program in order to view the site. You can’t see the information on the site that you are after, since the webmaster has used some sort of plugin that you have not installed, and your browser is prompting you to install it within a large dialog box that obscures the site.

Remember that your web site visitors are after information, they do not care about flashy elements of a site that a plugin can provide. You should only use these programs if they are relevant to your business. For example, it is expected that realtors or rental agencies will have “3D Walkthroughs” of their properties on their web sites, and that a special plugin is required to view these features. This will not annoy the site visitor, since the walkthrough is part of the information that they came to the site to get. Do not use special features that are not integral to your business.

3) Flash Animations

Most browsers now come equipped with the Flash plugin, so it is not considered out of the ordinary for a web site to use Flash in their design. However, there are web surfers who disable extra features in their browsers, such as plugins and graphics, in order to be able to surf for information more efficiently without being bogged down with the larger file downloads. For these visitors, it is important that you provide a ‘non-Flash’ version of your web site. If you use Flash for a ‘site intro’ (A page with a Flash Animation that introduces your site to visitors), be SURE to provide the infamous ‘skip intro’ link. It is interesting to track clicks on the ‘skip intro’ link – you will see how many visitors really watch your flashy site introduction, and how many skip it to get to the information that they are after.

On sites that I design using Flash, I use a JavaScript to detect whether or not the browser of the visitor has Flash installed and enabled. If the JavaScript detects that Flash is not installed, or if JavaScript itself is not enabled, the code displays a graphical or text alternative to the Flash animation.

4) Customize Your 404 Page

Nothing annoys visitors to your site more than receiving the bland 404 page that Internet Explorer or the web server generates as a default. Most visitors will not spend the time trying to correct your link, or to find the page that they were after. The polite thing to do is to make your 404 page your home page. This way, even if the surfer follows an outdated link, or if you have an incorrect link in your site design, they can find the information that they were after from your current home page.

Your web host should be able to explain to you how to customize your 404 page. What you want to do is cause the web server to display the home page of your site as the 404 error page. You can use this generator to create the file needed to customize the 404 (and other) pages on the popular Apache web server.

5) The Netiquette Of Frames

Frames are becoming less used now that newer browsers support DHTML features and other options for static navigation are possible. However, sometimes people may visit your web site through a portal which uses frames, such as a Home Page Randomizer. For this reason, it is important that you do not include code that ‘breaks out’ of frames without being asked. You can include a link on your site that when clicked will break your page out of a frame, but doing so automatically may cause the visitor to leave your site immediately for the next page in the Web Ring or Randomizer.

6) Fonting Your Site

The latest browsers allow for the use of customized fonts that your site visitor may not have installed on their server. I have seen many sites abuse this functionality by creating their entire site content with an almost unreadable font style. As a general rule, it is good practice to always use the basic fonts for your web site content. (Arial, Helvetica, Verdana, Times New Roman, Courier) If you’d like to use fancier fonts for your site, it is best to use them only in headers, and you can create small GIF graphics for the headers instead of requiring your visitor to download a font in the background. What good is a well-written message if no one can read it?

7) Pop-Ups

I equate pop-up (and pop-under) advertisements on the ‘net with telemarketers. Most people don’t mind receiving a telemarketing call every once in a while, since they can simply hang up on the caller and be done with it. Imagine, however, receiving a telemarketing call, and then another on call waiting, and then another on your second phone line, and then a junk fax coming through on your fax machine simultaneously!

This is the feeling that most web surfers get when they encounter pop-up windows. One is generally overlooked, they can easily close it with one click if they are not interested, and will move on to the information that they were initially after. However, multiple pop-up windows will annoy the visitor instantly, and they will most likely leave your site for fear that every link that they click on will result in another slew of unwanted pop-up ads that they will need to close. It is certainly rude to program multiple pop-up ads in your web site, it is best to use a pop-up system that will only display one ad at a time.

8) Site Navigation

Site navigation should be kept as simple as possible. Links to different levels in your site should be visible ‘above the fold’, enabling your visitors to get to the information that they are after quickly and easily. Java navigation menus should not be used on a serious web site, since it requires the browser to load the Java Applet before the visitor can browse your site. DHTML menus can be used, since they are usually quick to load. A good rule of thumb to remember is that flashy web design only impresses other web designers, it rarely will impress a potential customer.

9) Don’t Change The Cursor

Programs such as “Comet Cursor” give web designers the ability to customize the design of the cursor while the visitor is at their web site. Since this requires a program download, it violates point #2 right away. Other scripts are available to customize the appearance of the cursor, or create ‘trails’ or other features. Probably the most annoying of these scripts are the ones which create a detailed clock around the cursor. While this is an impressive bit of scripting, the clock usually obscures the page content that the visitor is attempting to point to with their cursor, and is counterproductive if you are trying to please your site visitors and give them the information that they visited your site for. Be polite and leave the cursor alone.

10) Place Your E-Mail Address On Every Page

The best way to be polite to your site visitors is to provide an easy means for them to contact you, if they have any questions about your products or services. Many web designers are hesitant to place e-mail addresses on web pages, since it is well known that there are programs called ‘spiders’ which go through the internet looking for e-mail addresses to add to SPAM lists.

A little bit of clever JavaScripting can keep the e-mail address out of the reach of many web spiders. The following is a simple example:


<script language=javascript>
<!-- var username = "username";

var hostname = "domain.com";

var linktext = "username" + "@" + "domain" + ".com";

document.write("<a href=" + "mail" + "to:" + username +

"@" + hostname + ">" + linktext + "</a>")

//-->

</script>

This code will place a link on your website that visitors will see, but that the spiders will most likely skip over, since many are programmed to ignore extra code within web sites. Another method is to simply create an e-mail address specifically for the use of feedback from your website. A good choice is usually “webinfo@yourdomain.com”. You can then create a link on your site, such as:


<a href="mailto:webinfo@yourdomain.com?SUBJECT=Reply From Web Site">Contact Us</A>

You can then scan the Inbox of this address to find legitimate mails from visitors to your site simply by looking at the subject of the e-mail. Of course, some visitors may change the subject line of the e-mail, and it is important that you look for these as well, since nothing is more impolite than not responding to a query from your web site visitors.

If your web host allows, you can also provide a feedback form on your web site. This will prevent the SPAM spiders from finding your e-mail address, but only if you use the type of feedback form that does not simply send an e-mail using the surfer’s e-mail program. Many people fear sending information through insecure (non-SSL) feedback forms, so using both a form and an e-mail address is usually the best practice.

Following these ten simple pointers is a great start to insure that your site provides your visitors with the information that they are after. Always keep in mind that you are trying to sell your product or service, and not your web site. The web site is a tool to sell your product or service, and is not the reason (most likely) that people will visit it. Keeping this in mind will no doubt improve the overall effectiveness of your web site as a sales tool.

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